Sitting down with Christian Dion Dean, a.k.a. Vee Tha Rula, it's clear he's always had a vision. His foresight is how he got his name in the first place.
"In the neighborhood, anything that would happen, my homeboys would always come to me and ask what's going to happen," Vee says. "I would just have a vision all the time that things were going to be all right or that we would make it out of a situation. People began to trust me, and it just grew into Visionary, or Vee for short."
Previously, Dean went by "Menace" but decided to change it when a rapper friend, Compton Menace, began to build a heavy buzz in California. When Dean teamed with DJ Drama for a 2011 mixtape called The Visionary, it was an opportunity for him to reveal his new rap alias, Vee Tha Rula.
Dean has been making music for as long as he can remember.
"I remember being young and when [the Puff Daddy and Notorious B.I.G. song] 'It's All About the Benjamins' came on and stuff like that, we would be over at my auntie's house with leather jackets on trying to reenact that," he says. "I remember having my little yellow notepad trying to write rhymes at 8 years old."
Dean got his feet wet by rapping over beats like 50 Cent's "This Is How We Do" and various other industry beats until, eventually, he discovered sites like Soundclick, which gave him access to more original production. After years of grinding, the rapper eventually came across Bootleg Kev, who worked at Power 98.3 at the time, and sent him music. After Kev hosted Dean's mixtape, a budding friendship formed and opened major doors, including a tour with Kirko Bangz and YC. Kev eventually sent music to KP, owner of popular mixtape site Datpiff, who was very interested.
"The mixtape I did with DJ Drama was recorded in a factory that most of time didn't have heat or air. Big cockroaches. Birds flying in that motherfucker. It was horrible."
"So I wake up one morning. Bootleg Kev [had] screenshotted that text and sent it to me and was, like, 'This is the owner of Datpiff asking about you,'" Dean says.
After going back and forth for months, KP hooked up Dean with some collaborators. However, a collab with Kid Ink is where things got interesting. Kid Ink heard Dean and immediately wanted to hop on some music with him. From there, Ink offered Vee Tha Rula a deal with his new label, Alumni Music Group.
"It was much love and crazy-good business. They didn't ask me for a dime," says Dean as he thinks back on the way the deal went down. "From there, they were trying to get me out to Paris that same week, but I couldn't make it because I didn't have my passport. I ended up signing the deal anyway. A year later, I'm in Paris . . . I'm with Ink, so . . ."
We talk about the title of his new LP, From the Jump. Dean elaborates: "You know, I've been this way from the jump, from the beginning. I knew I was going to be here from the jump. I've been doing this from the jump."
As we sit in his plush Scottsdale condo, it is clear that Dean has come a long way from growing up in the streets of Phoenix. When it comes to how it feels to be on the "other side of the fence" the rapper feels grateful.
"I'm not a millionaire yet, but it has completely changed my life. I used to live in a factory, and the mixtape I did with DJ Drama was recorded in a factory that most of time didn't have heat or air. Big cockroaches. Birds flying in that motherfucker. It was horrible."
The rapper's face turns solemn.
"I wanted to chase my dream. I never wanted to have a 9-to-5. I just felt I was better than that. You know what I'm saying?"
Because of this philosophy, Dean has made his way either through music or dealing drugs. After getting raided by the police years ago, he knew making a living in the drug trade wasn't sustainable.
"I went to jail and, after that, the street life was never the same. It wasn't as easy to make money as it used to be," he says. "I just wanted to do this music shit, and I gave up everything. I sacrificed everything. Not eating, you being able to have the things other people my age had, etc., but now that's all changed."
Dean gets a check each month from iTunes and gets paid for every feature he does. He is traveling the world and doing paid gigs, and things just keep getting bigger and bigger for him. Now that money is not a concern, his focus has been razor-sharp, and his only goal at this point is to reach new heights.
"I'm trying to be the best," he says. "I want to just grow and fuck up the world if possible. When dealing with me, there are definitely no short dreams. Why be in it if you ain't going to win it?"
Vee stresses that he always does music for the love of it, as opposed to the money and fame. He urges up-and-coming MCs to focus on the craft.
"Do it for the right reasons. Do it for you. Do it for the music," he says. "A lot of these cats just want to be on. They want the cars and the girls."
The 27-year-old made the journey from Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 2000. Since then, he has had to deal with the contrast of Arizona life. We begin to compare his former life in Grand Rapids to his current days in Phoenix. One of the first things he mentions are the opportunities.
"There are way more outlets out here. Artistically. Economically," he says. "I go back home and I still [see] a lot of people still on flip phones. People out here are recording on Macs and shit."
One of the biggest challenges that Dean faces is dealing with the pressure put on him from peers and associates. Many from both cities have doubted his loyalty to their respective cities. Arizona locals attempt to call him out on his Michigan roots while he faces other problems in his birth town.
"I deal with the 'survivor's guilt' when I get back home," he says. "I'll get back home and they'll be like, 'Oh, you left' or something like that. Anything I do or say can tick somebody off."
At this point, Dean doesn't have the time to let such things hang heavy in his head. His main goal is to focus on making both cities proud. With From the Jump dropping on Alumni Records on February 5, Vee Tha Rula hopes to get back on the road with his Alumni family and continue to expand his name across the world.
"I'm just trying to get back to Europe, again," says Dean, smiling.